AUGUSTA — The $146.4 million state agency that maintains computer systems with Mainers’ personal identifying information and oversees operating systems for 16 other agencies has faced persistent problems for nearly a decade.

Officials and decision makers have limited ability to analyze data across state agencies. There are questions about the state’s ability to recover data in the event of a massive system breach or failure. And the agency continues to be the subject of complaints from state officials about the rising cost of its services.

Now, after several reviews by the Legislature’s watchdog agency and incremental progress, state legislators are considering more consistent scrutiny and oversight. The Government Oversight Committee recommended Friday that legislative leaders consider creating a special committee to oversee the state’s Office of Information Technology.

The 450-employee agency provides technical service for all of state government, including Maine Revenue Services’ tax collecting, state employee payroll, eligibility systems for assistance programs at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor, and state employees’ cellphones.

Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Hudson, described the technology office Friday as “surrounded by a moat and parapets,” a problem exacerbated by a lack of legislative oversight.

“This has to become a stinging nettle for somebody,” he said. “This is a serious problem.”

Rep. Richard Campbell, R-Orrington, agreed.

“These services are budget busters,” Campbell said. “For them to be under such control, with nobody understanding why, is a serious issue.”

Lawmakers’ and state officials’ frustration with the technology office is not new. In 2006, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, the Legislature’s watchdog agency, drafted a series of recommendations to improve the agency’s governance, data security and services. However, many of the recommendations have not been met.

For example, a follow-up review in August found that the agency still doesn’t have adequate safeguards in the event of a breach or failure that may require recovering data. In addition, state agencies have limited data-analyzing capabilities, particularly across multiple agencies.

An independent review of the technology office released in June found that the agency had improved in some areas.’s 2014 State of the Digital States, a biannual survey rating technology presence and operations in state government in the United States, increased Maine’s rank from ‘C’ to ‘B,’ placing the state among the top quartile of states in IT performance.

But state lawmakers continued to be confounded by what OPEGA described as unsolicited complaints from state agencies about the cost of the technology office’s services. Those complaints increased when state agencies presented their budgets last year. Lawmakers on the budget committee continually questioned what they viewed as significant increases in agencies’ technology services budgets.

Nonetheless, lawmakers on the oversight committee acknowledged that the heartburn over the agency may be in part because of what Duchesne might describe as a moat of ignorance.

The agency operates and maintains a range of technology systems that vary in sophistication, including the state’s Medicaid claims system, unemployment benefits and Maine Revenue Services’ “tax engine.” Even its budget is difficult to understand. Its most recent annual report posted an operating budget of $146.4 million for the fiscal year that ended last June. Its revenue is difficult to pinpoint because it bills each of the 16 state agencies it supports separately.

In addition, most state agencies have fixed budgets, meaning an unexpected technology services expenditure could put a department in the red.

Such complexities prompted lawmakers on the oversight committee to explore the idea of creating a separate committee charged with reviewing and understanding Office of Information Technology budgets, programs and services, along with ensuring that previous recommendations continue to be implemented.

“There’s just a real deficit of knowledge about the job they do,” said Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea.


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